DEAR DOCTOR K:
My 12-year-old is overweight. How can I help him achieve a healthy weight without making him feel deprived?
Being overweight makes it hard for a child to keep up with friends on the playground. And the teasing can be merciless. What’s more, kids who are overweight are at greater risk for lots of health problems as teens and later in life. Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease as adults. Long-term obesity also increases the risk of arthritis, diabetes and certain kinds of cancer.
The best way to help your son get back to a healthy weight is to get your entire family to exercise regularly and eat a sensible diet. Your son is less likely to feel deprived if his food and activities are the same as the rest of the family.
Here are some specific tips:
- Encourage at least one hour of exercise every day.
- Plan family activities that involve exercise. Try bicycling, walking, hiking and swimming.
- Limit television, computer and video-game time to no more than one to two hours per day.
- Switch to low-fat or nonfat milk (except for children younger than 2 years old and women trying to become pregnant), and reduced-fat cheeses and yogurts.
- Drink water instead of soda or juice.
- Limit fried and high-fat foods.
- Use low-fat cooking methods such as baking, steaming, boiling, grilling and broiling.
- Try to eat at least five servings each day of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand. Serve them as snacks instead of cookies, chips, ice cream or other high-fat foods.
- Trim visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry before cooking.
- When eating out, encourage the family to choose lower-fat items, such as a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a fried burger, or pasta with tomato sauce instead of pepperoni pizza.
Never severely restrict your child’s calories. Children who are overweight still need three well-balanced meals and one or two nutritious snacks each day, in order to have enough energy to learn, play and grow to their full potential. In addition, children should not follow fad diets, which may not have important nutrients that children require. If you need more guidance, your pediatrician can refer you to a nutritionist or registered dietician.
There are two main messages here. First, overweight kids are at increased risk of several diseases later in life. Second, kids are much more likely to behave in a certain way if they see you behaving that way.